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Miller v. University Hospitals Health System

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

July 18, 2019




         Before the Court is the motion for summary judgment of the sole remaining defendant, University Hospitals Health Systems, Inc. (“University Hospitals”). (Doc. No. 25 [“MSJ”].) Pro se plaintiff Frank Miller, Jr. (“Miller”) filed a response in opposition (Doc. No. 28 [“Opp'n”]), and University Hospitals filed a reply (Doc. No. 29 [“Reply”]). For the reasons set forth herein, University Hospitals' motion for summary judgment is granted and this case is dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Miller was employed by University Hospitals from 2005 to May 2015. (Doc. No. 25-1, Declaration of Heather Harmon [“Harmon Decl.”] ¶¶ 2, 12.)[1] During that entire time, Miller held the position of administrative assistant. (Id. ¶ 2.) In 2014, Miller was assigned to work as an administrative assistant in the Government and Community Relations Department (“Government Relations”), where he reported to Heidi Gartland (“Gartland”). (Id. ¶ 2; Doc. No. 25-3, Declaration of Heidi Gartland [“Gartland Decl.”] ¶ 2.)[2]

         During 2014, Miller's last full year of employment with University Hospitals, there were forty-six (46) individuals employed as administrative assistants, including Miller. Miller was paid a higher wage than thirty-eight (38) of the other administrative assistants. Each of the administrative assistants who was paid more than Miller had a higher performance rating and/or more seniority than Miller. (Harmon Decl. ¶ 3; see also Doc. No. 25-2 (“MSJ Ex. 2”).[3])

         As the 2015 annual budget was being prepared, Gartland was informed by her superior, Steven Standley, that Government Relations would be required to eliminate one full-time position due to budget constraints. (Gartland Decl. ¶ 3; Harmon Decl. ¶ 4.) The reduction in force was not just occurring in Government Relations; it was implemented system wide, with a total of eighty-eight (88) positions eliminated. (Harmon Decl. ¶ 4; see also Doc. No. 25-4 (“MSJ Ex. 4”).[4])

         Gartland and Harmon conferred, reviewing the operations of the department to determine which position, if eliminated, would have the least impact on efficiency. At the time, Government Relations included a director, an intern, a manager, an executive secretary, and an administrative assistant (i.e., Miller). (Doc. No. 25-5 (“MSJ Ex. 5”).[5]) Gartland determined that Miller's job functions could be assumed by other current employees, so his position was selected for elimination. (Gartland Decl. ¶ 4; Harmon Decl. ¶ 5.)

         On January 14, 2015, as a result of the decision to eliminate Miller's position, Harmon directed that a proposed Separation Agreement be hand-delivered to Miller. (Harmon Decl. ¶ 6; see also Doc. No. 25-12 (“MSJ Ex. 12”).[6]) Gartland met with Miller to advise him of his position's elimination. (Gartland Decl. ¶ 6.) As with all other non-supervisory employees whose jobs were eliminated, Miller was offered the option of accepting a severance package or electing lay-off status under the University Hospitals' policy. (Harmon Decl. ¶ 9; see also Doc. No. 25-7 (“MSJ Ex. 7”).[7]) Miller chose the latter, which entitled him to lay-off status until May 1, 2015. (Harmon Decl. ¶ 10; see also Doc. No. 25-8 (“MSJ Ex. 8”).[8])

         While on lay-off status, as was his right, Miller applied for thirteen (13) other positions at University Hospitals.[9] Of these, he failed to meet the minimum requirements for eight (8) positions;[10] two (2) positions were canceled and not filled;[11] and three (3) positions were filled by candidates whose qualifications and experience levels made them better suited for each position and whose salary requirements were much lower than Miller's.[12] (Harmon Decl. ¶ 11.)

         On May 1, 2015, since Miller had not been hired for another position with University Hospitals, his employment ended and he received a severance payment in accordance with University Hospitals' policy. This was the last payment Miller received from University Hospitals. (Id. ¶ 12.) Following the elimination of Miller's position as administrative assistant at University Hospitals, Miller was not replaced and another administrative assistant was not hired. (Gartland Decl. ¶ 7.)

         On July 7, 2017, Miller filed the instant action. Although his complaint is not a model of clarity, it appears to set forth claims of discrimination under the following federal statutes: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e to 2000e-17 (“Title VII”); Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (“ADEA”); Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112-12117 (“ADA”); and the Lilly [sic] Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (“Equal Pay Act”)[13]. (Doc. No. 1, Complaint [“Compl.”] at 9.[14])


         When a party files a motion for summary judgment, it must be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).

         In reviewing summary judgment motions, this Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); White v. Turfway Park Racing Ass'n, Inc., 909 F.2d 941, 943-44 (6th Cir. 1990), impliedly overruled on other grounds by Salve Regina Coll. v. Russell, 499 U.S. 225, 111 S.Ct. 1217, 113 L.Ed.2d 190 (1991). In most civil cases the Court must decide “whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [nonmoving party] is entitled to a verdict[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         “Once the moving party has presented evidence sufficient to support a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party is not entitled to trial merely on the basis of allegations; significant probative evidence must be presented to support the complaint.” Goins v. Clorox Co., 926 F.2d 559, 561 (6th Cir. 1991). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not rely solely on the pleadings but must present evidence supporting the claims asserted by the party. Banks v. Wolfe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 330 F.3d 888, 892 (6th Cir. 2003); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (finding that summary judgment is appropriate whenever the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial). Moreover, conclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are not evidence, and are not sufficient to defeat a well-supported motion for summary judgment. See Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990). In other words, to defeat summary judgment, the party opposing the motion must present affirmative evidence to support his or her position; a mere “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. Bell v. Ohio State Univ., 351 F.3d 240, 247 (6th Cir. 2003). Under this standard, “the mere existence of some factual dispute will not frustrate an otherwise proper summary judgment [motion].” Dunigan v. Noble, 390 F.3d 486, 491 (6th Cir. 2004) (quotation marks and emphasis omitted) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).


         Before ruling on the dispositive motion of University Hospitals, the Court must comment on the nature of Miller's “opposition” to the motion. This opposition document is styled as “Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Proposed Finding of Fact.” It consists of lengthy, verbatim quotations from defendant's motion with a few brief, inserted sections captioned “disputed” wherein Miller makes conclusory statements with broad citations such as “please see record” or “[p]lease see exhibits (A - A 14)[.]” (Opp'n at 361, 365-67.) The first several pages of Miller's “opposition”-styled as “Declaration[s] of Frank Miller, Jr. pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746”-are no more than verbatim copies of the declarations of Heather Harmon and Heidi Gartland with Miller's remarks interspersed.

         None of this material meets the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Nonetheless, despite Miller's inadequate opposition brief, the Court will separately examine each of Miller's claims in light of the arguments of University Hospitals to ascertain whether there are any material factual disputes that would preclude summary judgment. See Delphi Auto. Sys., LLC v. United Plastics, Inc., 418 Fed.Appx. 374, 380-81 (6th Cir. 2011) (“[A] district court cannot grant summary judgment in favor of a movant simply because the adverse party has not responded. The court is required, at a minimum, to examine the movant's motion for summary judgment to ensure that he has discharged that burden.”).

         A. Claims Under Title VII and ADEA

         University Hospitals construes Miller's Title VII and ADEA claims as being brought on the basis of race (African-America), sex (male), and age (fifty-seven (57) years old). (MSJ at 254.) Title VII makes it an unlawful employment practice to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge” an individual because of that person's race or sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Similarly, the ADEA makes it an unlawful employment practice to ...

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